An epic novel exposing the ugliness of war and the beauty of hope
The city of Kiev was bombed in Hitler's blitzkrieg across the Soviet Union, but the constant siege was only the beginning for her citizens. In this sweeping historical saga, Kelli Stuart takes the reader on a captivating journey into the little-known history of Ukraine's tragedies through the eyes of four compelling characters who experience the same story from different perspectives.
Maria Ivanovna is only fourteen when the bombing begins and not much older when she is forced into work at a German labor camp. She must fight to survive and to make her way back to her beloved Ukraine.
Ivan Kyrilovich is falsely mistaken for a Jew and lined up with 34,000 other men, women, and children who are to be shot at the edge of Babi Yar, the "killing ditch." He survives, but not without devastating consequences.
Luda is sixteen when German soldiers rape her. Now pregnant with the child of the enemy, she is abandoned by her father, alone, and in pain. She must learn to trust family and friends again and find her own strength in order to discover the redemption that awaits.
Frederick Hermann is sure in his knowledge that the Führer's plans for domination are right and just. He is driven to succeed by a desire to please a demanding father and by his own blind faith in the ideals of Nazism.
Based on true stories gathered from fifteen years of research and interviews with Ukrainian World War II survivors, Like a River from Its Course is a story of love, war, heartache, forgiveness, and redemption.
As I sit here at my computer, having just finished reading Like a River from its Course, I'm at a bit of a loss at what to say.
I have all the emotions. Sorrow. Anger. Joy. Relief.
While I've read many, many novels set during World War II, never have I read one from the perspectives of Ukrainians or Nazis. Never have I considered the atrocities taking place in the Soviet Union during the war.
Like a River from Its Course has shifted my perspective on the war.
I knew it was a horrible war. I've been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. I've heard stories told by American veterans. I've watched countless Hollywood films set during the war. I've read The Hiding Place. But somehow, this novel has opened my eyes even more to the atrocities of war and helped me realize that things across the world were so much worse than I'd ever imagined.
I think this is due, in large part, to Kelli Stuart's decision to write the story in first person from four different perspectives: three Ukrainians and a German Nazi. Each story felt true, and each character had a unique voice that transported me into his or her world. At the very beginning of the novel, I did struggle to get a grasp on who was who—I think simply because the Russian names were foreign to me. Quickly, however, I became swept into the individual—and sometimes surprisingly intertwining—stories.
At times, the novel is almost overwhelmingly depressing—when Maria is forced into a labor camp, when her father Ivan witnesses and nearly dies in the mass murder of the Jews at Babi Yar, when Luda is gang raped after being abandoned by her father, when Frederick becomes a mass murder himself. Yet there is nearly always hope. Hope for love, hope for family, hope for a better future.
Though he's not present in much of the story, one of the most impactful characters is Sergei, Maria's brother and Ivan's son. Idealistic and eager to fight for his country, Sergei joins the Soviet army as soon as he is old enough. The reader only gets glimpses of Sergei from that point on, through letters to his family, his family's interactions with one of his comrades, and a brief encounter with another character late in the novel. It is during this encounter that the character asks Sergei why he would put his life in danger by helping others escape the Soviet Union. His response jumped out at me: "I wanted to fight to protect my country from the enemy. I was naive when I joined. I didn't realize that the enemy could easily be dressed just like me." That statement is so important, as it illustrates the truth that there were good and evil men on both sides, just as there are in today's wars. In today's American conflicts. We should not automatically assume that the people on "our" side are good, and those on the other side are evil. Life is so much more complex than that!
Though the spiritual content in this book is understandably light throughout most of the novel, near the end, Ivan and his wife begin to seek out answers, and they befriend a priest. As Ivan questions how God could allow the atrocities committed by the Nazis, the priest clearly and concisely presents the gospel using the Nicene Creed. Ivan slowly comes to embrace Christ, and when Maria returns home, she notes what a difference faith has made in her parents' lives.
Though the story is heart wrenching, the novel ends nearly as positively as it possibly could. Not everyone gets a happy ending—that would be unrealistic. Honestly, one of the endings did stretch credulity for me a bit; however, I found I didn't care—I was just happy to see these characters who endured so much end up facing a brighter future.
I am so glad I had the opportunity to read this compelling novel. Though it is intense (as you would expect from a novel dealing with rape, murder, and other war-time atrocities), it never becomes gratuitously graphic, and it is well worth the read. 5 stars.
Buy the book.
Kelli Stuart is the coauthor of Dare 2B Wise and has written for several brands including Disney, American Girl, and Short Fiction Break. She has served as editor-in-chief for the St. Louis Bloggers Guild and as a board member for the St. Louis Women in Media. In addition to her writing, Kelli has spent twenty years studying Ukrainian culture. Kelli lives in Florida and blogs at KelliStuart.com.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Kregel Publications. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Also, some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”